Saturday, January 10, 2015

A religion or a relationship?

One of things that priests do often is celebrations with families at key moments of their lives: baptisms, weddings, funerals for example.  It is at such events that the extended family comes.  There is no priest who hasn't looked at the gathered family and notice that it is obvious that the overwhelming majority had quit the practice of the Catholic faith.  It is not just the young ones, but the much older as well.  It is easy for us to look at such a situation and wonder what went wrong...with them.  What act of rebellion led them to abandon such a well presented and well witnessed to faith?  Did we not have great classes and programs?  What is deficient in these people?  I know this, because I thought those things early on in my priesthood.  I was among those who saw this and either used the opportunity to do nothing or to berate (subtly) the disbelief of the gathered.  Was I ever wrong!  Now, I look at the situation and wonder if and where we as a Church failed.  Where did we who were in charge of faith development (parents and clergy) fail to make a compelling case for not just a religion, but the relationship that is the very center of our Catholic faith?  Maybe, in some cases, the fallen away person did have great role models and compelling witness and chose to abandon the faith anyways.  Let's be honest though, more often than not it was a lack of such things that allowed the person to drift off in hopes of finding greener pastures.

Human beings are social creatures.  We crave relationship.  It is not enough for us to talk about the theories of relationship, we actually crave to be in such.  It drives the desires to interact, to make friends, to date, to marry and so on.  This desire is what drives the creation of families.  It builds towns, countries, and empires.  Healthy people know these relationships will have peaks and valleys, good days and bad days, times of intense emotion and times of incredible dryness.  Deep within the person is a desire to be in relationship with something beyond themselves.  This desire drives us to faith, and when that desire goes unmet or is betrayed, it leads to a great anger and bitterness.

Our Judeo-Christian faith is based on one central premise: He who created us, loves us, and desires a relationship with us.  He reveals Himself in our history.  He does so through angels, judges, and prophets.  He gives us a written testimony through the Scriptures. He creates a way for us to come to understand Him and encounter Him.  Primary to that encounter is worship.  Worship is our way of returning to God the love He first shows us.  Our God is not content with a singular relationship with us; no, He wants us to love whom He loves...He wants us to love the entire group whom He calls His family.  The Bible is rife with familial bond terms: spouse, father, mother, sons/daughters, brothers/sisters...all pointing to the deepness of a desire for a loving relationship He wants with us.  This relationship, built upon love, has a certain look to it, will act in certain ways which all speak to the heart of all Scripture and Church teaching: LOVE.  Love is a complete self emptying for the sake and good of another.  This love has no strings attached and sets no conditions.  All of the 'rules' point to what love looks like.  They do not, however, replace the actual duty to love.  Religion is the knowledge...faith is the lived relationship.

Therein lies the rub.  Do we present Catholicism as primarily a religion or as a relational faith?  Is it primarily a set of rules to follow so as to check off obligations so as to get some merit badge or is it a continual self giving which draws us deeper and deeper into an eternal relationship?  If we present a mere religion, we do a tremendous disservice, if not tremendous violence, to God's divine self revelation.  God wasn't looking for us to dissect Him but for us to come to know Him.  If faith gets reduced to a memorization of facts in which we will give you various certificates to prove you went through training (talk about an act of violence towards the sacraments!), can we not but wonder why those who do stay do so?  Faith is not an academic subject.  Coming to know the teachings of Christ and His Church should lead to ongoing conversion and alert us to what a healthy loving relationship with God and His people look like.  No more than religion can be reduced to 'do what you feel' (which was kind of the mantra for several decades...and they did what they felt...as they were leaving our doors) can it be reduced to a mere scientific dissection.

This changes everything.  It changes how we present faith and what its obvious end is.  If faith is about an encounter with religious knowledge, then we will continue to have the problems we have.  Does this mean we cease having religion class?  Absolutely not!  But what is the end in mind?  A grade or a relationship?   Perhaps taking a different approach in the dissemination of the content of our faith might be looked at:  approaching it as not merely a giving of a particular type of knowledge (which by comparison seems disconnected from others types of classes) but as the type of dynamic in building a friendship or in courtship.  This is much harder to do.  It cannot be taught coldly out of a book, but must be a lived witness by the instructor.

I am trying to flesh this out in practice.  That requires that I engage more in deepening my relationship with God and being extraordinarily conscious of how I behave and respond to situations.  In the beginning of this column I talk about those uncomfortable moments at funerals and weddings and such.  What do I do now?  The homily includes a strong call to seek relationship with God and the beauty that this relationship brings.  Instead of a wagging finger or a closed hand, a open hand reaching out is actually symbolic of the relationship to which we are called.  As we engage in the new evangelization, we must begin from the premise that what we present is not a mere religious choice...but a call to a relationship that God eternally calls us to and has created us for.  Let's start there...at a  relationship with God and His people....as our intellectual nucleus and let it lead beyond the sterility of mere intellect (which IS needed by the way) and to the dynamic reality of a lived and growing  relationship with God and our brothers and sisters.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Being a Christian Father

Yesterday, an interview with Cardinal Raymond Burke was released in which he spoke of the waning role of men in the Church.  It came across that the cause of this was a 'feminization of the Church' which had been overrun by radical feminists with a radical agenda.  This is nothing new being said, I have heard this multiple times.  The belief that since  'women have filled the sanctuaries' and the hand wringing about girl altar servers being the cause of the drop in priestly vocations and so on.  I'm not buying it.  I am not buying the notion that men in the Church are some damsel in distress held captive on a ship overrun by Amazonian pirates.  The women stepped in (and thank God they did) because the men abandoned their posts.  They abandoned their posts generations ago by abandoning being the spiritual leaders and heads of their home that the Scriptures demand they be.  That abandonment has spread like a horrific disease throughout every institution including the family, the parish, and society as a whole.  If it is to be corrected, it isn't by blaming women and driving them out, it is going to be by men stepping up and be the leaders they are called to be.

I caution though against falling into the two traps of pseudo-leadership.  A spiritual head of the home is to be a model of the Father, neither falling into being a tyrant nor an enabler.  Isn't is odd that the two greatest misconceptions of God fall into God being either the tyrant or the enabler?  The Scriptures present us with a Father who has a firm hand, a deep love, the strength of patience, and a burning desire for the good of his children.  The tyrant rules by force, too weak to model or produce a compelling argument to cooperate.  The enabler abdicates responsibility and plays both the fool and the coward in the life of those charged to his care.  Neither of these are models of Christian fatherhood, neither in the family or in the parish.  I say this because dysfunctional fathers are not sole to marriage, but are so often running parishes as well.  Of all the titles a priest can be given, father is the one that is supposed to remind him day in and day out of the awesome responsibility he has.

The answer to what ails us is for men to start being the dads , both lay and cleric, that God has created us to be.  This is not to diminish by one iota the role of the mom.  She shouldn't have to do both jobs though.  Over the years I have talked with many women who do both jobs (even with the man living in the home)  and while they do their best at fulfilling the roles, they desperately wish their husband would step up and take his role so that the mom can do hers better.  Gentlemen, it is time for us to step up! 

How do we do this?  How do we grasp the nobility that is spiritual fatherhood?  First and foremost by being a man  of God.  It means following those traits of God the Father aforementioned.  You put yourself last!  Your children and wife come first.  Period.  If you are a priest, your parishioners come first.  Period.  You actively look out for their entire good.  You realize your primary responsibility to be a provider and protector, both spiritual and physical, of those God has placed in your care.  Your wife and children (or parishioners) should see in you a model of the strength of faith and the pursuit of holiness.  Know that if you are willing to turn to God,  a Father who loves us and wants what is good for us, and seek the wisdom, courage, and strength to fulfill your mission, He will give it to us.  I find the most powerful petition I have every morning is asking God to help me a better father.

If the dearth of priests is to be ever answered. it will by men reclaiming their duty as spiritual leaders.  Young men will follow the example of the fathers, for good or for ill. So, men, you ARE a spiritual leader, for good or for ill!  Where are we leading? That goes for the parish as well.  I know it sounds harsh, but my brothers, neither being a business man nor a show man inspires.  They look to us to be strong spiritual leaders who model the strength and compassion of the Father.  In either the home or the parish, that is much more than speaking a good game.  It is actively living it.  It is in taking an active interest and forming the bonds of relationship...you know being a father is a familial relationship?

So dads...do you do spiritual leadership?  Do you ever lead prayer in the home.  Do you ever pointedly model Christian discipleship?  I'll be blunt...it is not primarily the mother's job to take the kids to church...it is yours! It is not manly to abdicate responsibility because I bought into a worldly view of being a man (which is actually acting like a perpetual boy) .  I'm not going to go easy on men because I don't on myself.  Men don't need to be treated with kid gloves...they man up.  Be a better husband and father...model the selflessness, self-control, and compassion necessary to pull this responsibility off.  My brother priests, we cannot model our spiritual fatherhood by being prisoners of our rectories waiting like a businessman for the people to come to us. We must get out among our flock and be shepherds actively concerned for the guidance and well being of our flocks...they are the families which we have been given the duty of caring for.

Blaming the women for our own dereliction of duty is an act of weakness and cowardice.  We dishonor the effort and sacrifice they put into faith by trying to step up in our role AND their role.  We will stand before God, each of us, and have to answer for the role we played or didn't play in caring for those placed under our care.  I hope all who read understand this: the base is exactly the same for a good priest  as it is for a good husband/dad.  If the models aren't living up to the responsibility, how on earth can we expect healthy fruit?  No more blaming the women...man up and take your responsibility to those placed under your protection and care.  If we truly want to see our society thrive and our church thrive...it will be by being the men we are created to be.

Monday, December 8, 2014

To Catholic Parents

I have a deep respect for those who have taken on the role of parent, of being a mother or father.  Even in the best of circumstances it is not easy.  I am well aware of the daily pressures that go with the calling and the incredible amount of strain put on your schedules.  I know the demands put on your time, energy, and resources.  I know that things don't always go right and that you are well aware that you are not the only entity vying for your children's affection and obedience.  I know that there is great joy in seeing them succeed and rise to new challenges.  I know there are moments: birth, first step, first word, first day of school, graduations, and such which sit forever etched in your minds and hearts. I know some have had the unimaginable trauma of losing a child.  I know some hearts ache as their children go down paths that lead to very dark places.  I know that your job is at times thankless.  I know that if you are doing it right, being  a parent means giving of yourself and pushing yourself selflessly for the good of your children.  I also know that when you see your child verge off onto a harmful path, you bravely and lovingly know you have to have a heart to heart talk.

 I know this, because, first I listen to you...I actually hear what you say; secondly, let's just say that being called 'father' isn't just a job title, but a constant reminder of what my task to serve is about.  My calling to this parish is what your calling is to your family.  The same selfless love, the same desire for the good of those placed in your care, the same rejoicing in the good, and the same agonizing over wayward steps are a part of my everyday life.  As a good parent , I desperately not only want to see each of my parishioners succeed in life, but I deeply desire to share eternal life with them in heaven.

I wish to share with a moment with you my paternal joys and worries. I would imagine my vantage point is much the same as any parent: some of my children are doing well, some are not, some have wandered off altogether.  Anyone who knows me knows that this pains me.  It is why we have started a concerted effort at engaging in the new evangelization. Our Lord refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd...this does mean He a good shepherd (as in good person...although He is), but the Greek word used means 'good at'  shepherding.  He makes clear that being good at shepherding means reaching out for those who have left the safety of the flock to navigate a world full of wolves.  These are those of my parish family that worry me the most.

To begin with, for those of my parents who are trying to raise their children in the ways of the faith.  Kudos!  You are doing the job you said you would do at your child's baptism.  I realize it is difficult and  a constant swerving path of juggling commitments and establishing priorities that one can hope to pleasingly present to God.  I know it isn't always appreciated by your children and you have to endure the 'it's too churchy' nonsense.  You are what keeps us running.  I know sometimes your children rebel anyway, especially when they leave your home.  I know the heart ache it causes.  I know you persevere.  Thank you.  You did this with minimal help, unfortunately, from those who were supposed to spiritually guide you within the Church.

That is a point that needs to be expanded upon.  I cannot condemn parents who fall below this measure because for 5 decades we have not done well in either teaching the faith or evangelizing through our parishes.  It wasn't for lack of dedicated volunteers.  It wasn't for lack of dedicated teachers.  The materials we gave them to do their job were substandard, watered down, and sometimes just outright wrong.  Many of those who should have known better did not reverse this trend.  Too many hid behind not wanting to offend and simply did nothing but complain about the eventual outcome.  Too many spiritual 'fathers' forgot a lesson that any good parent knows: the calling of being a parent is not to be your child's buddy (they have those elsewhere), but to be their parent...even when doing so angers.  Any parent who failed at that job knows that when they finally do start being the parent...well, there is going to be a lot of blow back.  The Church in this country is awakening to the fact that we have failed the flock (which means we failed Christ Himself) and that if we are going to do our calling, we need to act as parents who love their children.

This said, I now address my parents who struggle with raising their children in the fullness of the Catholic life.  What I write is not going to be easy to read, but believe me, it is said our of desperate longing and love for you...I want to see you home.  Every Mass I don't see you or your family has the same bitter sting as a parent looking at an empty chair where their child should be at the dinner table.  Knowing that the relationship isn't what it should be has the same heart break as a parent estranged from a child.  The parish is meant to a family of faith that is connected with our extended family through the world and in heaven.  I know we have failed to drive home this point, but being a Catholic is first and foremost about relationship: relationship with God and with His family.

We have many children who show up either steadily or periodically to our parish education programs.  We have trying hard to upgrade them and teach better what we believe.  However, all we can do is supplemental to what is being done at home.  If we teach them the Eucharist is important, that keeping holy the Sabbath is an actual commandment, that we must be reconciled when the division of sin has entered the picture, that the relationship with God and His people is a primary relationship...but this is not modeled by their parents, the lessons are lost and even negated.  If we can disregard these things, then what of  faith do we actually need to follow?  Does being honest, kind, respectful, and such also become optional? Does even believing in God become optional? For a child's mind it does. Left unchallenged, that disbelief becomes set.  A mixed message is being sent and the answer isn't to just simply abandon the faith altogether.  It leads to a disbelief which has been come to one compromise at a time.  I am not saying you are a bad person if this is your situation...no...only that you can be better and that we want to help you. Why? Because I am not going to be a different kind of parent that what I am asking you to be.

As some of you know, I am what is called a revert. That means that at one time in my life I left the Catholic faith.  I was a practical agnostic.  I know the difficulty of coming home.  I was that prodigal son who wandered from the safety of the home.  I know the challenge of changing set ways.  I know the fear of what were people going to think. I know the fear of wondering what if I couldn't follow through.  I know the frustration of false starts and failing.  All I can tell you is that it is worth it.  I can promise that if you are willing to dig deeper, we are willing to give support and help you be the kind of parent that God calls you to be.  We are engaging in the new evangelization specifically because I want all of my spiritual children home...all of them.  Those of you reading this who have been engaged, you will be needed as help and support.  I cannot do this alone.  God gives us all the grace to be the parents we promised we would be...let us give ourselves to that grace and even if we have not been that parent, let's start anew.





Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Little Religious Fervor...Okay, Actually a Lot of Religious Fervor.

All this week, I have been reflecting on the Gospel for this weekend on the Parable of the Talents. I started to form a homily on the conventional themes of using the gifts and abilities God has given us to help build up the Kingdom.  Safe.  I am sure it would have been a decent homily.  However, prayer is taking me somewhere different.  Let's see where this goes, shall we?

I want to start off with one bold proclamation: WE ARE THE ONES WITH THE 5 TALENTS!!!!! This is so true on so many levels.  We, as Catholics, have been given a deep richness of God's grace especially in the Sacraments.  We are given the possibility of an extraordinarily intimate relationship with God, seen most concretely through the Eucharist.  We are given the ongoing gift of the forgiveness of sins. We have a God who desperately loves us and wants to have us with Him for all eternity.  We have the fellowship of believers stretching throughout time and space, all fellow pilgrims meant to help each other to that Kingdom.  We have a massive body of teaching and instructions to help us discern what loving God and loving our neighbor looks like.  We have a Gospel which urges us on to excellence and victory!  We lack no access to a bountiful spiritual treasure trove.

Furthermore, to my American readers, we enjoy a wealth and freedom in this country that so very many in this world would desperately want to have.  No one who goes to worship in this country need worry about arrest or death.  Even our poor live better than so very many in this world.  We have an embarrassment of riches.  We have access to food, clean water, medical care, housing, and work that many in this world do not have. We live in a society that does give us the ability to better ourselves should we decide to do the hand work necessary to that end.  The social safety nets we have in place are extensive.

So why is their such discontent in our society?  Why are we losing our youth and young adults in such alarming numbers?  Why are our worship services so often paeans to mediocrity and banal worship?  Why do people get 'nothing out of' our Eucharistic celebrations, as is so often commented?  Some will say it is because of entitlement (everything must please me), some will say it is because we do not appreciate or even acknowledge what we have, some will say it is because we have grown more inward as individuals.  Some would say it is just a case of we have grown into spoiled rotten adolescents.  Maybe it is a mix of all these things.  What I believe though is that we have lost our fire and fervor.

Let me explain:  Every Mass should be a resounding celebration of "I LOVE YOU GOD!!!"  Voices resounding like peals of thunder should be facilitating this.  However for this to happen we need to be living lives that scream "I LOVE YOU JESUS!!!", that act as a powerful witness.  This cannot be synthesized nor faked.  We can have all of the lively sounding music or solemn music we want.  We can have all the happy clappy or all the silence we want.  Mediocrity of faith will lead to mediocrity in worship.  Do we really get what we have?!    Do we?  I can assure if we did, we would be those voices raised like the peals of thunder in praise of our God!  EVERY MASS should be a loud and bold proclamation that we have the 5 talents!

But what do we experience?  Mystery?  Beauty?  Wonder? Awe? Simply overwhelmed  at whose presence we are coming into?  If we understood even a minimal level that is what we should feel, perhaps we would be connecting with what is happening.  But what do we experience?  Banality, the commonplace, mediocrity, tepidness...nothing...a void?  In the Book of Revelations, Jesus says to the Church of Laodicea through St. John, "How I wish you were hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm, I vomit you from my mouth!"  Our celebration of the Eucharist is not to be an exercise in mediocrity!  As I said before though, our worship will be a reflection of our spiritual lives. It is not about what we get out of Mass, it is about what we give!

I am not saying that we couldn't do better in Mass.  I do tire of singing about ourselves in a Christianized narcissistic way.  I deeply desire music directed primarily to the praise and worship of our God.  I don't want to hear the same stuff I hear outside of Mass...I want to know right away that what we are here to do is radically different.  I want mystery and awe! I want to hear from the music, the readings, and the homily a resounding 'I LOVE YOU LORD!'.  I want worship to represent the acknowledgement that we indeed  possess the richness of God's grace.  Why?  Because Mass is supposed to fire us up to engage in the mission of Jesus Christ...to invest the 5 talents in such a way so as to draw others to Christ Himself.  No fervor in Church will translate into no engagement.  This doesn't mean the blare of percussion instruments as much as it means the roar of thunder of our voices in praise of God.  That roar is as powerful through chant as it is through more modern styles.  It should not be an either/or wargame that so many parishes devolve into (like that isn't immediately perceptible).  We have been around for the better part of two millenia...we should quit trying to act as if we either came into existence or ceased to exist 50 years ago!

Mass is the tip of the iceberg.  Our lives as Catholics need to scream "I Love you Lord!"...not 'bah, sure, I think I like you, if you actually exist and all.' Pope Francis referred to pagan Catholics a few days ago.  That's harsh but pretty accurate.  Catholicism isn't a fraternal order to belong to...we aren't the Kiwanas with a lot of statuary.  We are the caretakers of a radical faith meant to transform the world!  We look at so many of the problems we face as a church.  We want to blame the teachings.  I say it is the timidity and lukewarmness!  I say it is the ago old desire to have a god who doesn't challenge...a doddering doofus who will just rubber stamp our least efforts with heaven.  Wake up people!!  If in the parable the king grows infuriated with the one who hid his single talent...what will be the response to those who buried the 5?!  We need to understand in the most powerful possible way: we worship a God who expects us to use wisely what He has given...not a god who desires nor rewards mediocrity and lukewarmness.  There needs to be a restoration of that understanding...and that restoration will breath new life into our parishes, our families, and our world!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Is Pope Francis a Communist?

In the past few weeks I have seen many people opining on the political leanings of Pope Francis.  Many on both the right and left have come to the conclusion that he is indeed a communist and either rejoice or denounce said stand.  He is aware of this and said a few days ago that it seems when he speaks of the poor and how wealth is distributed that he is called a communist!  He would say he isn't.  The extremes would say he is. He says he is following the Gospel and is its witness.  Let us look, then, at how the Scriptures themselves speak of these things.

It is worth noting that our Christian faith is founded by a man who possessed nothing.  Jesus embraced radical poverty.  He, being the Son of God, could have been born into great power and wealth.  When He comes into the world, it is the Father's will that Jesus be born into the lower classes.  He died owning no earthy possessions other than the clothing he wore, which was gambled for as he was being executed on the cross.  Even his tomb belonged to another.  Why?  Why does the Son of God come this way?  What is the larger point?  His life points to the Kingdom of God/Heaven.  He comes to establish it.  In John 18:36, when in front of Pilate, he declares His Kingdom is not of this world.  He is not attached to the things of this world.  he encourages His disciples and apostles to do the same (Matthew 5:3, 6:19-21, 6:24, 28-32, 10:9-10 for examples).  Is he saying wealth is inherently evil? No.  He is saying that we should concern ourselves with higher goals. In Timothy 6:10 reminds us that the LOVE of money is the root of all evil.  We look at these passages and see that the consumption and ownership of worldly goods can not become an ends in themselves.  For the powerful, regardless of their political bent, this preoccupation with worldly wealth and power can become all consuming.  History shows that this wreaks havoc on humanity.

Unrestrained capitalists can have very thin skins. The envious, a driving force in both unrestrained capitalism and communism, also are thin skinned.  Unrestrained capitalists like to hide behind the tiresome words 'whatever the market will bear.'  This is to act as if the market were its own philosophy of morality.  Let's be honest, though, the market will bear slave labor, child labor, low wages, outrageous compensation packages for elites while laying off employees, bonuses for work that should have the person fired, and cronyism.  This same list is alive and well among socialists and communists as well.  This is problematic and sinful.  When we love things and use people, we wander from from our human dignity and abandon any pretense of a relationship with God. When the pope points this out, and he does frequently, this does not make him a communist, it makes a follower of Christ.  That pointing out these aspects of the Gospel makes people uncomfortable is more a reflection on them than him.

We, as followers of Christ are not engage in the class warfare that is at the heart of either extreme of the spectrum.  For most of you reading this, even if in American society you may not be among the wealthy. but odds are you are part of the upper 1% of wealth in this world. Luke 12:28 reminds is to whom much is given, much is expected.  The accrual of wealth for its own sake is problematic and even condemned in Scriptures.  In Luke 20:28 ff the rich man is condemned for using his excess wealth to enrich himself instead of helping those in need,a violation of Deuteronomy 24:19.   Inasmuch as we do not engage in class warfare neither do we hoard.  Of this the Church has been clear for her entire history (not always lived up to, but certainly never taught to hoard) and has placed an onus on those of means to look after the needs of the poor.  That Pope Francis says any of this is neither novel nor revolutionary.  It certainly does not make him a communist!  If anything, it makes the life of detachment from wealth that he has chosen throughout his life a living witness to the life of Christ Himself.  Is this way every single person should do it?  No.  Nor is the pope saying it should be.  As the successor to the Chair of Peter, he is saying nothing more that what the Church has taught for 2000 years.

So why all the hubbub? Politics.  We live in a society polarized on a plethora of  levels.  The atmosphere is toxic.  Witness the unrelenting amounts of speculation and outright nonsense surrounding the synod. There is no topic anymore that does not rally people around a cause to which they will destroy others who disagree with them. Anyone with a sense of history and a modicum of faith knew the synod would not change one iota of Church teachings; because we might want to be more gentle, kinder, or loving does not necessitate a caving in on moral issues.  What bigger prize than the leader of the largest institution on earth?!  The pope is on my side!!! No, he isn't and nor should he be!  He is the spiritual leaders of 1.1 billion people of every possible bent and description.   It is isn't his job to favor one over the other.  I look at the predecessors he had...they didn't either  (as much as some want to say Pope Benedict did...read all of his writings sometime).   The pope is not the grand prize in the battles of ideologies.

Many call him communist because he questions the practice of some forms of capitalism.  Any form or any socioeconomic theory is not without its abuses and malformations. If being unrelenting in my capitalism means I hoard for myself and take a Darwinistic approach to others, I cannot be authentic about being a Christian!  Doubt that?  I would invite the reader to go to Matthew 25:31-46 and take a good long look at how we will be judged.  Perhaps the pope saying what he does about wealth distribution and economies has absolutely nothing to do with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and lot more to do with the King of Glory.  Because I might belong to a certain economic theory means neither treating that theory as gospel nor of being unwilling to admit its flaws.  To point out said flaws does not make one a enemy as much as it does a purveyor of truth.   

Friday, October 24, 2014

Playing With Fire: Catholics and the Occult


Just out in time for Halloween is a movie called 'Ouiji' after the infamous 'parlor game'.  Without giving too much away (and there is usually very little to give away in these tedious thrillers) the gist seems to be that playing with ouiji can bring bad things.  So, AMC theaters are giving ouiji boards to the first 'lucky' 100 customers.  I understand they might give out chain saws after the next installment of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  I wonder if these lucky customers know what a contagion they are bringing into their homes.

Many lump ouiji boards with other things that labeled as harmless fun.  You know, a little scary fun that no one believes is real.  Tarot cards, palm readers, mediums, astrology (not to be confused with astronomy..the study of space), and such are seen as diversions.  The Scriptures forbid them.  I know, I know...the killjoy Bible bans it.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church also condemns this in paragraph 2117:  All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others—even if this were for the sake of restoring their health—are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity.  The occult seeks to harness spiritual powers in order to manipulate them to an end for the individual.  Sometimes that end is seen as noble, such as talking with a departed loved one.  Sometimes it is for purposes of taking revenge and so on.  Either way it is playing with fire in which the handler gets burned.

Evil is real. We see that day in and day out in our news.  Spiritual entities are real.  Both good and bad.  Both angels and demons.  They are real.  That which is evil is not simply going to present itself as such.  Want to contact Aunt Matilda who died years ago to see how she's doing?  Maybe mom or dad, a child, grandparents is the desire to be contacted.  We do it more often than not because we miss them and our hearts ache that absence.Maybe our problem is we are confused about our futures and want to see what is ahead.  The problem is that when we use such means as the occult to do this, we invite things into our lives that we might not have otherwise let in.  The demonic is always looking for a welcome entrance.  If it has to fool us into believing we are with a dearly departed..so be it.  It is not as if deceit isn't part of their game.

Now, some might be thinking this all a bit of hyperbole.  It is just a little harmless fun.  Isn't that how all addiction in our lives begins?  A little harmless fun. In study and study and story after story of documented exorcisms, so many began with a 'little harmless fun' that quickly spun out of control.  Inviting these things into your home is dangerous.  There is no such thing as a christian medium...that is like saying there is such a thing as a christian professional liar, christian ax murderer, or a christian thief...each are engaged in a behavior expressly forbidden by God.  God doesn't do this because He has anything against fun, but because like a loving parent, He wants us to stay away from that which means us harm.  To engage in such things as listed above is to push away the hands of God and invite in true evil.  To engage in the occult is forbidden because it is a breaking of the 1st Commandment.  We are to turn to God with our concerns, our aches, and our loneliness.  Why?  Because He means what is good for us.

I do not watch horror films and such because I make a point to rejoice in truth and beauty.  As followers of Christ our time is better spent rejoicing in beauty and truth  as opposed to entertaining ourselves with ugliness and deceit.  As one who has seen the aftermath of what happens when evil is invited into a life, it is with no shortness of urgency, I plead with you if you should have engaged in these things, please seek confession, remove the items from your house, destroy them, and never replace them again.  They will oppress you.  You were not created to be oppressed by evil, but to walk freely as a child of God.  Ouiji boards and such are not parlor games, they are contagions which will bring things in that you would never actually want.  Do not allow sorrow your sorrow or angst lead you to allow in charlatans and the demonic.  Turn rather to God to fill those empty parts and you'll have nothing to fear. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Getting to Know Jesus: God's Plan is for all Matthew 2: 1-12

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his starat its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him,  “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

We hear now of the birth of the Anointed One (Messiah/Christ). The first to hear of this great news in the Gospel of Matthew are those who shouldn't: the magi.  The Magi are pagans.  They are astrologers.  They are part of a group condemned in the Old Testament as those engaged in the occult.  Yet these are the first to find out.  God reaches out them where they are and gives them the opportunity of being transformed by the greatness of His love.  God beckons and they come.  Truth is revealed to them and they respond.  From the first moments of the birth of the Messiah we are told that this saving message is meant for all humanity.  This message was a message of hope bound in the love of a God that so desperately wants a relationship with us that He will send His Son among us to restore that relationship.He reaches out to these Magi, not by warnings of condemnation, but in the bearing of the Good News.  Through their gifts they show that what has been revealed to them is a bit of who Jesus is to be:  A priest (frankincense), a prophet (myrrh), and a king (gold).  For Jesus to be able to do that for which He was sent, it is necessary He be all three:  A king who guides us with the tenderness of the Good Shepherd, a prophet who announces the Gospel, and a priest who will offer Himself to restore a broken relationship between God and man.

Also in this story is a disturbing plot twist:  those who should have been thrilled with the news of the birth of the Messiah are not.  We hear all Jerusalem is troubled.  We see Herod concerned.  The chief priests and scribes say where it is to happen but we are given no record of their going.  We know Herod will try to have the audacity to kill the Messiah.   Their self interest prevent their knowing or believing.  Those who should have believed didn't and those who shouldn't have did.  Yet the message is made known to both and will continue to be so.

What do we take from this?  The whole of our faith is built upon a longed for relationship.  That relationship will call us to change, a change that may well not be welcome.  We cannot allow the chance that we may be rejected in proclaiming God's desire for a relationship to deter us from that proclamation.  We cannot allow the fear of necessary change for the better deter us from heeding the call to relationship.  Finally, in making this proclamation ( a prophetic proclamation we are called to make by virtue that we share in the 3 fold ministry of Christ by virtue of our Baptism) we must meet people where they are at...not wait for them to get their acts together (whatever that means!) before it is 'safe' to proclaim.  There are no groups we can write off or persecute.  There is no person to whom the message of Christ can be kept from.  We must approach with compassion, not judgment, not merely calling for conversion, but showing where God has already reached out to them.

Will all accept?  No.  We will never know who will ot will not accept if we treat our Church as a country club looking for the right members and who doesn't want the wrong ones.  This Gospel passage reminds us that in God's eyes their are no membership requirements save one:  a willingness to develop into the relationship He calls us into and allow that relationship to transform us into what is better.